Saying Goodbye, Part 5
All the events of life, even such dark events as war, famine and flood, violence and murder, are not irreversible fatalities. Each moment is like a seed that carries within itself the possibility of becoming the moment of change… Henri Nouwen
In last week’s Life Note, I shared my experience of saying the five things we should say to a loved one before they or we die as I said goodbye to my Uncle Jim. I suggested that having those conversations prior to being separated by death helps bring a peaceful closure to an already difficult situation. I also suggested that the ideal for relationships is to seek and grant forgiveness, as well as to verbalize our gratitude and affection for the other on an on-going basis as opposed to waiting until the end. Clearly, however, this is not the norm for most relationships.
Of course, the type of relationship I had with my uncle made having the conversation a whole lot easier than it would be with many others. For one thing, we did not live together. There is something about sharing the same space with someone over an extended period that breeds resentments and other, often repressed annoyances. The intimacy of living together can be a wonderful gift; it can also be a hotbed of irritations and make finding a serene closure difficult.
Another factor that can make this type of closure process difficult is when it cannot be safely done face-to-face. If our loved one was abusive – physically or emotionally – we may not be able to bring ourselves through the forgiveness phases of closure, let alone to sincerely express thankfulness or love. Whenever the closure conversation cannot be done safely, even in the absence of the loved one, professional assistance should be considered. Obviously, if our loved one has already passed, we are no longer able to bring closure in person.
None of these situations prevents us from bringing closure, however, if only for ourselves. The energies of our loved ones remain with and around us through our memories, in the numerous environmental reminders of times shared with them, in our dreams, and often in the sense that they remain very near to us. Whenever we need to bring closure to a relationship with a loved one who is physically unavailable, we can always do so in a virtual manner. Here is an outline for having a virtual closure conversation:
- Find a private, quiet place where you can have a reasonable span of uninterrupted time.
- Sit in a comfortable, relaxed position. Having one’s feet on the floor will provide a sense of stability and grounding if the conversation is likely to feel threatening or painful.
- Relax. Take time to breathe. Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply from your lower abdomen. Visualize the breath as it enters and exits your body.
- Once you are relaxed, grounded, and centered, imagine your loved one into your presence. It might help to have a picture of them in front of you or an empty chair where you imagine them to be sitting.
- Please forgive me. What aspects of the relationship weigh on you in the form of guilt or regret that you seek forgiveness for? What do you need to apologize for? Verbalize it in the virtual presence of your loved one. Sit in silence for a time and listen. While we may not hear an audible response, very often we can feel a sense of peace that helps us to know we are forgiven.
- I forgive you. Name the hurts that remain on your heart that were the result of actions or words of your loved one. Tell them what they did and how it made you feel. Go into detail. When you are finished and ready, grant forgiveness to your loved one. Sit in silence for a time, relaxing, breathing, and listening.
- Thank you. Name that for which you are thankful with regard to your loved one. Be detailed and sincere. Go slowly and try to feel a sense of deep gratitude for everything mentioned.
- I love you. We cannot say it often enough. One can also say, “I love you because …”
- Goodbye. Know you can return to this virtual space with your loved one whenever you feel the need or desire to do so. When you are ready, stand up and say goodbye.
The process can be repeated as and when desired. Difficult relationships may require many such conversations. Finally, it can be helpful to reflect on this closure experience by journaling about it.
This is the 56th in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.
Taizé to Go, a free worship experience, is available at https://youtu.be/sUC7gq9Op2Y
 Henri Nouwen, You are the Beloved, The Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust, Convergent Books, 2017.